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Coronavirus Testing in California: New Guidelines Announced

Coronavirus Testing in California: New Guidelines
Announced 1
Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

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Californians who don’t have symptoms of Covid-19 will probably have a harder time getting tested for the coronavirus, according to new, stricter guidelines state officials unveiled on Tuesday.

“It is critical we continue to be deliberate and creative about testing,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s head of health and human services, said in a statement. “We must do this so that testing is readily available and affordable to those who need it, especially those communities experiencing the worst impacts.”

In a virtual news conference, Dr. Ghaly said California was also exploring opportunities for pooled testing, a strategy that could help identify infections in large groups more quickly.

The shift in testing strategy comes as more states around the country have scrambled to ramp up testing, which has resulted in tighter supply chains and longer turnaround times in California, the nation’s most populous state.

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California has contended with an explosion in cases, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday to announce the most sweeping rollback yet of reopening plans.

[Read about which businesses were ordered to close down.]

As of Tuesday, California was averaging 8,334 new cases per day over the past week, compared with 3,041 new cases per day on average just a month ago.

Here’s what to know about the changes:

Why are they happening now?

Over the past two weeks, the state reported 107,600 tests per day on average — a huge increase over the past couple of months. But the state’s percentage of tests that have come back positive for the virus has inched upward, as well, to 7.1 percent on average over the past two weeks.

“Our testing capacity has increased exponentially,” Dr. Ghaly said in the statement. “At the same time, new national supply chain challenges and large volumes of specimens sent to commercial laboratories have resulted in growing delays in processing times.”

What do the new guidelines say?

Previously, state and local officials had encouraged anyone who wanted to get tested to see if they were eligible, whether or not they had symptoms, as testing capacity ramped up across California and case numbers were less troubling.

Under the new guidelines, Dr. Ghaly said that testing would be much more strategically targeted at people in communities where risks of transmission are higher.

Of course, people who have severe symptoms will be prioritized for tests with quick results so they can get a diagnosis and be treated.

According to the new rules, people who have been hospitalized fall in the Tier 1 priority group, along with people who must be tested as part of investigations into specific outbreaks.

Tier 2 includes everyone else with Covid-19 symptoms, as well as people who live or work in the kinds of facilities where outbreaks have been most severe, such as nursing homes, prisons and homeless shelters. It also includes health care workers who have “frequent interactions with the public or with people who may have Covid-19.”

Tier 3 includes workers in remaining essential sectors, like grocery stores, logistics, manufacturing and education, if they don’t have symptoms.

And then, there’s Tier 4, which will be implemented only when the test turnaround time is less than 48 hours, as monitored by the state. That’s when anyone else who doesn’t have symptoms, but is worried they may have been infected, can get tested.

How will these new rules help stop the spread of the virus?

While individual actions, like following distancing and mask-wearing rules, are critical for curbing the spread of the virus, increasingly, experts have recognized that many transmissions are taking place because Californians who work in low-wage, high-risk jobs haven’t been able to stop working.

In a first-of-its-kind analysis, researchers at the University of California, Merced, Community and Labor Center found a connection between high concentrations of low-wage work in certain counties — like at farms and in warehouses — and the prevalence of Covid-19.

“Our findings emphasized the importance of not just regulating business openings, but mitigating Covid spread by innovating health and safety reforms for workers,” Ana Padilla, the center’s executive director, told me.

One way to do that is to ensure that workers in those communities have access to testing — and that workplace outbreaks are transparent. That would mean requiring counties to report test results by industry, the report said.

“Although we have guidance and support, we know that testing in those environments is key,” Dr. Ghaly said on Tuesday, adding that that’s why the new testing strategy involves homing in on workplace outbreaks.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Updated July 7, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Still, he said the state hadn’t specifically asked counties to report test results by industry or employer.

[Read more about how the pandemic has put warehouse workers in the Inland Empire in a tough spot.]

Here’s what else to know

We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.


Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times
  • The Trump administration abandoned its plan to strip international college students of their visas if they didn’t attend at least one class in person. It was a rare and swift reversal in response to fierce opposition. [The New York Times]

  • Most of the nation’s big school districts — including in Los Angeles and San Diego — aren’t ready to reopen, because the test positivity rates in the communities where they’re located are much too high. And reassuring examples of schools reopening abroad don’t apply here. [The New York Times]

  • Bankruptcy forced Stockton to “defund” its Police Department, making it an inadvertent laboratory for pushes to reduce the roles of law enforcement officers in keeping communities safe. [The Los Angeles Times]

If you missed it, here’s what Stockton’s mayor had to say about calls to defund the police now. [The New York Times]

  • Transit agencies around the country are struggling. In the Bay Area, there are too many disjointed systems and not enough riders. [Bloomberg CityLab]

  • Wineries were beginning to settle into a new normal. Then they were told they had to shut down indoor operations.[The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • He goes by Bruce or Paco or Peter or Pierre or Abraham. He is a peacock. And he’s tearing a North Oakland neighborhood apart. [SFGate]

And Finally …


Credit…Kemper Bates

We joke about it: How many years has it been since 2020 started? How many lifetimes?

There’s a sense that we’re living through a momentous period in history — a global pandemic, uprisings over racial justice that have poured into every corner of society — and broad recognition that the world is changing rapidly.

So museums and curators are asking us all to help them help future generations understand this time by documenting it. Everything, like protest signs, shopping lists, or snippets of video.

“Whatever we’re taking to be ordinary within this abnormal moment can, in fact, serve as an extraordinary artifact to our children’s children,” Tyree Boyd-Pates, an associate curator at the Autry Museum of the American West, told Lesley M.M. Blume, in this article. The Autry is asking for submissions to its Collecting Community History Initiative.

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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